B&N’s New e-Reader Sports Color Touch Screen… sort of

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The consumer gadget world has been abuzz for weeks about a series of press invitations sent out by the book giant Barnes & Noble. The invites were purposely vague, it would seem, simply referring to “a major event in the company’s history” to take place in New York City on October 20th.

While B&N seemed to at least make a half-hearted effort at keeping the subject of the event secret, the Wall Street Journal stole a bit of their thunder, publishing a story last Friday outlining their plan to release an e-Reader to compete with Amazon’s Kindle.

First image of B&N's new color touch screen e-Reader

B&N's new color touch screen e-Reader. Source: Gizmodo

According to their report, which was confirmed Wednesday with photographs obtained by gadget blog Gizmodo, the new as-yet-unnamed device will feature a black and white 6-inch e-Ink display (the same size as the Kindle 2) as well as a small touch-screen color LCD display on the bottom which will serve to both show book covers in greater and richer detail than an e-Ink screen is capable of, but also allowing for a more intuitive touch-based navigation system and a virtual keyboard for typing.

For years, device-makers have struggled with the limitations of e-Ink technology. The dream has always been to allow for the color, richness, and touch-navigation of an LCD with the readability and power-savings of e-Ink. The Kindle opts to use e-Ink for everything, and its slow refresh rate makes for a second-rate content navigation system. Sony’s e-Readers utilize the touch-screen interface, but their device isn’t quite as readable thanks to the extra layers of material. B&N’s new reader would appear to circumvent these limitations by relegating the two technologies to their own separate screens.

While theirs is a clever solution to the puzzle of mixing the two technologies, the degree of convergence is probably not as thorough as most gadget geeks, a brotherhood of which I am a member, would like. Until they can truly blend the two technologies on one screen, they’ve only solved half the puzzle. But hey, it does look like the device has an easy-to-use book light for reading in dark places. There’s real innovation.

While these leaks have kind of taken away much of the surprise of the October 20th event, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered. With the hardware presenting only an incremental upgrade over the competition, the shape of Barnes and Nobles’ content delivery service may well determine their success. We’ll have to see whether the rumored Google Books accessibility will come to fruition, and the built-in social networking features hinted at by Gizmodo, which include the ability to lend books and utilize connectivity with Twitter and Facebook, could become the device’s biggest selling point.

However the event does shake down, I’m excited to see another legitimate contender on the market. In the mean time, we’ll be keeping our ears to the pavement for the latest rumors and developments.

Barnes & Noble eBooks

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